Sceaux overcomes travel hassle to follow up last year's win
It was a different line-up on a different day, but the result that was widely anticipated when the Clarence House Chase was scheduled to be run at Ascot last Saturday was delivered in style when 1-2 chance Un De Sceaux took command on the far side and romped home five lengths clear of long-absent Uxizandre.
Ruby Walsh had not heard the Faugheen news when he set out to repeat last year's win on Willie Mullins' nine-year-old, but while he could not wait to get the full lowdown from his boss as he hurried to the weighing room his admiration for the former Racing Post Arkle winner's sheer class, not to mention his constitution, was obvious.
The jockey said: "He was in good order today, and to be fair to the horse it was some performance, to leave Willie's last Thursday week to go to Ascot, which was called off, then travel back to Ireland and do a bit of work during the week and then travel back here.
"It might not sound a lot for a human but it's a fair bit for a horse and it's a testament to his ability that he was able to do that."
Asked if he had been at pains to hold on to the free-going Un De Sceaux in the tacky ground he replied: "Not him. He can do that in that ground, but it catches him out on quicker ground as you saw last year against Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase.
"On drier ground the faster horse will always lay up with you, but on that ground he just keeps going that gallop and makes it more difficult for them. I always thought I had loads of horse all the way down the hill and turning in and I was just hanging on and waiting for something to come, to tell you the truth."
Mullins, who watched the race on TV from Naas, added: "I didn't have the best view of the race but from what I saw I thought he jumped very big at many of the fences. That was a concern as when a horse does that it can take plenty out of them. But I really liked the way he found for Ruby when he got serious with him and he came up the hill very well.
"Cheltenham will be next for either the Ryanair or the Champion Chase. I know Ruby would love to ride both him and Douvan and at this stage it would look like Douvan in the Champion Chase and the Ryanair for Un De Sceaux."
Owner Eddie O'Connell was not present, but he was well represented by his four sons.
Colm O'Connell, who joked that he is put through only a quarter of the pain as his three brothers "share the anguish" said: "We’ll talk to Willie and see what Ruby thinks. I wouldn’t be educated enough to tell you which race at Cheltenham he'll go for. My job is to come here today, look pretty and pay the cheque.
"He’s not fallen in a long time but the fences are always a concern. We can look at March with a bit of confidence now. He’s a serious horse and it’s a special day for my father Eddie. It’s only his second ever winner at Cheltenham and my thoughts are with him."
Un De Sceaux was cut to 5-2 (from 7-2) for the Ryanair Chase, while Uxizandre was halved in price to 10-1 for a race he won in 2015. Alan King and Barry Geraghty could not have been more pleased with the nine-year-old, who was having his first run since that festival victory.
King said: "He's exceeded my expectations, especially when the rain came, as he's better on good ground, I'm thrilled with him. He looks to retain a fair bit of ability.
"It was a smashing comeback and he'll go straight to Cheltenham, But which race?"
Geraghty concurred: "That was a great run. He was in good form and hopefully he'll come out of it. He had a blow and ran on again. He ran a really good race. You have to be happy."